The word “fat” is usually linked to poor health and heart diseases. But as early as in 1970, in inluits (a group of residents of Greenland) it was contradictory. Their fat consumption in diet was as high as 40%. But, still they had lower incidents of heart disease. Inluits obtained most of their dietary fats from seafoods. Later it was discovered that, seafoods are opulent in a nutrient called “omega-3 fatty acid”. Since then, scientists are doing extensive research on food rich with omega-3 fatty acid.
1. What is omega-3 fatty acid ?
It is a group of polyunsaturated fatty acids( PUFA).
Basically it is of 3 types –
- EPA (Eicosapentanoic acid )
- DHA (Docosahexanoic acid )
- ALA ( Alfa-linolenic acid )
We absolutely require omega-3 fatty acids for proper functioning. But, ALA is an essential fatty acid. Hence, we can not synthesise ALA in our body. On the other hand our body converts only a limited fraction of ALA into EPA and DHA.
So, here diet plays a major part. We need to consume food rich with omega-3 fatty acid adequately. Otherwise, we should take it’s supplements or fortified foods.
2. Food rich with omega-3 fatty acid
While discussing about food rich with omega-3 fatty acid, the very first thing that comes to our mind is fish.
–Fish and seafood
Especially fatty fishes like salmon, sardine, tuna, herring, trout are plush in omega-3 fatty acids. Seafoods like shellfish has also high omega-3 fatty acid content. These are primarily abundant in EPA and DHA.
Seeds like flax seeds, chia seeds and hemp seeds are good sources of omega-3 fatty acids.
Similarly nut like walnut has decent level of omega 3 PUFA.
Flaxseed oil, soybean oil, canola oil are effective alternatives for vegans too.
Milk, yoghurt and infant formula are also fortified with this particular PUFA.
Cod liver oil is an oil derived from cod fish liver. It is loaded with not only omega-3 fatty acids but also vitamin A and vitamin D. Cod-liver oil is available as supplement capsules. Algal oil is an oil extracted from algae. It is a plant substitute to cod liver oil.
3. Omega-3 fatty acid on health
It has numerous positive effects on various aspects of our health. We can otherwise term it as a ‘beneficial fat’.
- Omega-3 fatty acid is important component of brain. It boosts memory. Omega-3 PUFA also prevents Alzheimer’s disease. It is help-ful in averting mood disorders, anxiety, depression etc.
- Omega-3 PUFA has a significant role in scaling down incidents of heart diseases, stroke, high blood pressure.
- DHA is a key structural component of retina. There fore it is crucial for developing and maintaining normal vision.
- Pregnant and breast feeding women are encouraged to take omega-3 fatty acids.
Studies has proved that, it increases weight and length of a baby, which is beneficial. It further facilitates development of vision and brain in utero and during infancy. Mother’s milk has DHA. That is why many brands have fortified formula milk with DHA.
- It protects against cancers like breast cancer, colon cancer and prostrate cancer.
- It has diverse benefits on skin health too which are specifically mentioned here.
4. Omega-3 fatty acid on skin
This fatty acid is an essential part of cell membrane. So, It plays an imperative role in keeping skin healthy. It’s various dermatologic effects are listed below.
It assists in maintaining skin barrier. Hence, it counters transdermal water loss. It keeps skin moist, soft and wrinkle free.
Omega-3 fatty acid fastens skin repair and wound healing.
Dermatitis means development of itchy, reddish rash on skin. Omega-3 fatty acid wards off dermatitis. It keeps skin healthy. It also prevents psoriasis.
Biologists have broadly classified ageing into 2 categories
- Chronological ageing
- Photo ageing
Ageing in relation to getting old is chronological ageing. Ageing associated with exposure to sunlight is photo ageing. UV radiation present in sun-ray induces photo ageing. Omega-3 fatty acid protects skin against deleterious UVA and UVB radiations. There fore, it screens against photosensitivity, sunburn and photo-ageing.
Deficiency of omega-3 fatty acid leads to keratin deposition in hair follicles and scaling of skin.
It has protective effect from UVB radiation. Thus, it prevents skin cancer.
This PUFA is known to limit inflammation. So, it lessens severity of acne.
–Melanogenesis or hyperpigmentation
This specific fatty acid has skin lightening properly. Thus, it, reduces production of melanin pigment.
It curtails hair loss and promotes hair growth.
Now a days industries are preparing cosmetics from fish-oil. On local application on skin, it ameliorate skin issues. However, scientists are still studying the effects of omega-3 PUFA on skin .
5. What if omega-3 fatty acid is inadequate in diet ?
It results in dry scaly skin with itchy rashes .
6. What if omega-3 fatty acid is taken in excess?
Maximum recommended value in diet is up to 3000 mg/ day. If we take it in excess, it results in stomach upset and diarrhoea. Further, in higher doses, it can also thin out blood and raise chances of bleeding. Hence, a person ingesting omega-3 fatty acid supplement should discontinue it 1-2 weeks prior to any surgery.
7. What is omega-6 fatty acid ? What is it’s significance?
Omega-6 fatty acid is another relevant fatty acid. It is present in most of our dietary vegetable oils. LA (Linoleic acid) belongs to this group.
The proportion of omega-6 and omega -3 fatty acid should be rightly balanced. Both omega -6 and omega-3 fatty acids compete for the same enzyme to get activated inside body. Hence, we should not take omega-6 fatty acid in excess compared to omega-3. If so, then it will lead to inadequate omega-3 fatty acid availability in body. Over-intake of omega-6 fatty acid suppresses immunity.
Food for thought
Day by day we are shifting more attention towards healthy diet. So, we should not miss out food rich with Omega-3 fatty acid in our diet.
I hope these learnings are useful. Do you have anything more to add ? Please do mention in the comment box below. Do you find this post informative enough? If so, then share with your family and friends.
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- 17 science based benefits of omega 3 fatty acids